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Saturday, March 25, 2017

The 2017 Power Rangers is basically a Tokusatsu Breakfast Club

If you've been reading this blog since the beginning, you'd know I'm a big fan of Tokusatsu, especially the Super Sentai and Kamen Rider franchises. So it's not an exaggeration to say this review comes with a bit more bias than usual. Upon watching the recent Power Rangers movie from Lionsgate, I was actually surprised at how much I liked it.


Power Rangers tells the story of a group of troubled teens, each with their own hangups and problems in life. And it's very well done. The actors, for one, are superb in their roles; and its obvious that the director was trying to get the feel of John Hughes' iconic teen film The Breakfast Club. While this movie is nowhere near as well made as Hughes' film, it's still pretty impressive for a genre remake. The Rangers feel like relatable human characters instead of cardboard cutouts. And I think films like The Breakfast Club are a perfect template to use for a movie like this: the teenage years are often a time when one tries to assert their own individuality; it's a time when some teens have the most difficulty trying to fit in, despite the fact that sometimes it's okay not to fit in at all. The Ranger suits/armor for me serves as a way for these teenagers to be who they really are - unique, nuanced individuals - in a sea of adolescent social hierarchies and cliques.

This focus on characterization makes you feel for the Rangers as the plot moves on to the spectacle of the third act of the film, where they do battle against original series antagonist Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks). Here the tone shifts to what I've been accustomed to with Power Rangers the show and in Super Sentai. These shows are for the most part, catered to kids, and the show often mixes a tone that is over the top, silly and serious at the same time. There are a lot of silly jokes near the end of the film, and Banks hams it up as much as one possibly can. I think the filmmakers caught this tone very well, though the shifts may prove jarring for people not used to the show.

The movie does use nostalgia a bit, but in a very measured way. It does not point to the nostalgic material and go "hey, look at this! remember this? cool, huh?" Instead, it eases us into it as some sort of reward. It goes and tries to be its own thing without relying too much on other things, and that's something I think a lot of big franchise films tend to forget these days. It focuses on characters instead of setpieces, rare for today's movies that prefer spectacle and eyecandy and forced intertextuality.

The film does have its share of problems, I'll admit. I wish the film could have extended some of its action sequences, especially the fight on the ground with Rita's mooks. The movie also ends in a weirdly edited place, and the plot is pretty much a no-brainer. Despite that, I appreciate the simple approach taken with this film. If a sequel does get made, it will be interesting to see where the filmmakers take these interesting characters in something that's not an origin story, for one.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Higanti, or how playing chess is the importantest

It's new movie timeeee. Today, we'll be talking about this gem, Higanti. I watched this film alone, and from all accounts the previous screening was probably as empty as the one I attended. This is evidence that normal people have the common sense and logic not to throw their money away. I envy them.

This movie, on the other hand, lacks both common sense and logic. It's poorly edited, with many scenes composed of random scenes spliced together. A dance scene, a scene where a young man furiously punches an easel and a scene where someone uses drugs are all shown in order, one after another. None of the scenes make any sense together or alone.

The story, which is about a woman who is basically shit on by her family for reasons, is poorly told. As a revenge film, it doesn't really dwell on revenge too much as it instead relies on letting things be. Which, as a revenge film (the film is literally titled "revenge" for chrissake) is the lamest thing you can do. It's so poor in almost all aspects of filmmaking it's actually quite amazing. Some people can't even try to be this bad. 

The writing is atrocious. There's a scene where the bitchy daughter (Meg Imperial) finally changes her ways. But the process of that change is so strange, so poorly implemented, that her character change is jarring. There's a motif of Gitana (Gypsy) dancing all throughout the film, but interpreting it as some sort of metaphor for the film is like saying quadratic equations are a metaphor for the Spanish Inquisition.

This is a film where someone is punched so hard, said punch-ee sprays so much blood (from where!?) drenching the punchers face in it.

This is a film where arterial spray from the neck has both the pressure and volume to coat an entire wall with blood almost instantaneously, thanks to piss poor editing.

This is a film with a hilariously bad CPR sequence, where the doctor is either 1) showing off 2) doesn't know what the fuck she is doing, or 3) both. She is defibrillating the patient's clavicles, after all.

This is a film where another doctor tells family members that their loved one is having a heart attack AGAIN in the most nonchalant, robotic way possible.

This is a film where a single shot from an M16 (NOT an M203, I checked) causes a large explosion in the water.

This is a film where a man tells the corpse of his dead brother that he can't die, because they still have to play chess. This is now the new "I'll never play the violin again!" and my new favorite line ever.

This is a film where an apparently bankrupt company has the money not only to buy juice and a cake, but also to remodel their entire building lobby, with nothing in the film telling us how the company got out of bankruptcy, if at all.

This is a film where said employees buy said cake and juice, but neglect to rearrange a burgled safe, just enough for our main character to see, instead of telling her that the safe has been burgled.

This is a film where establishing shots (or just random shots) are tilted at an extreme angle (90 degrees in some cases!) and spun around, because style is king, I guess.

This is a film where a man carves a deep wound into another mans chest, but the chest is merely smeared with blood seconds later.

This is a film where a bunch of guys piss on another guy's face in a slow mo/undercranked shot. Maybe these are the "understones" the MTRCB is talking about? You can take your 14 year old to see this film, by the way, since it's R-13.

This is a film where a "journalist" types with the typing speed of a three year old, capitalizing random words In His Sentences Like This. (Maybe he didn't read The Elements of Style.)

Higanti is garbage; an absolute failure of a film, and that's not really up for debate. But I really don't mind if people keep on making these shit films. I was in a bad rut today, and laughing (raucously, if I may add) at this film took me out of that rut. Not even Hollywood blockbusters managed to do that to me in the past few weeks. So thanks for that, I really appreciated it. Best film ever 10/10

Beauty and the Beast: a fairy tale

Once upon a time, there was a great animated movie from the kingdom of Disney. It was so good, it was hailed as one of the best in an era of bests, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture (not best Animated feature, mind you.) To John, it was one of his all-time favorite Disney movies.

Time passed, and the film aged well in the intervening time. John noticed that Disney was remaking its old animated movies into live action features, a trend that produced films such as Cinderella (2015), Maleficent (2014) and The Jungle Book (2016). The results ranged from meh to pretty great, so John had his reservations.

So it came to pass that John saw the new Beauty and the Beast live action film, directed by that guy who directed a number of Twilight films.  After seeing it, he generally appreciated what he saw, but he found something lacking.

Maybe, he thought, it was in the fact that certain things translate better through animation, where the CGI Beast ended up less expressive. Maybe, it was because of the bland color palette that consisted mostly of shades of dark blue and gold. Maybe, it was because he heard autotuning during some of Emma Watson's songs. Maybe, he surmised, it was because the most important scene in the film, the ballroom scene, felt flat and lifeless compared to the technical wonder of the cartoon.

And despite a plot that ties everything neatly together and new songs by original composer Al Menken, John thought the film was lacking when it was developing the most important part of Beauty and the Beast's plot, where the Beast warms up to Belle and vice versa, set to the song "Something There."

John exited the cinema and looked at the crowd who enjoyed the film. In trying to determine why, he searched far and wide within the landscapes of his mind and he realized that a wizard was casting powerful magic on these people. This wizard's name was Nostalgia. Nostalgia had been put to work by Disney before; exerting its power in the most recent Disney venture, that of a Rogue and her band of space misfits.

John admitted to himself, "The parts of this film that I enjoyed, the parts of the film that affected me the most were effective only because of that previous film. Without it, the film falls apart." And that, he realized, was the weakness of Nostalgia's magic. He imagined Nostalgia locked up in a corporate castle, forced to do the dirty work of unfeeling men in suits, with no prince or princess charming to save him. And that made John sad. He wished that one day, films can be made without relying too much on Nostalgia, because overused magical powers tend to weaken over time. Wishful thinking, maybe, but if love can turn beast into man, anything is possible.

Friday, March 17, 2017

March Reviews (2): Kong Skull Island, Get Out

Well, so much for my "hiatus."

On the surface, it's easy to judge Kong: Skull Island as a shallow monster movie. Its characters are mostly cardboard characters with little or no development - there's loopy scientist, decent civilian scientist 1 and 2, rookie-ish solider, hardened veteran with a past, photography girl and, of course, Samuel L. Jackson. Most of the meat of the story involves our titular gorilla punching and stomping and kicking ass, which is all well and good for popcorn entertainment. But Kong: Skull Island does something interesting with its story, one that has been remade many times since the original 1933 film.

The film draws from the time period it is set in - the 1970's - with visuals evoking the films and the filmmaking techniques of the time. Most obviously, the poster you see here is directly inspired by a similar shot in Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now.

And it's interesting how the film ties the conflict between our heroes and our beloved gorilla to the events of the Vietnam War, though it could apply to any war or conflict, past or present. It shows how the rational civilian population can be duped by the irrational whims of their leadership. It portrays Kong not as an amorphous villain, but as a fellow sentient being who we can get along with if we had the time to empathize, communicate and understand. It shows the lasting effects of the trauma of war on the soldiers that fight. It's also emasculating in a way, showing that blowing through everything willy nilly OR staying true to a lost cause is not always the proper course of action. These are lessons America could have learned over the course of that disastrous war, but these mistakes were repeated in their conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Despite all the silliness associated with the genre in the eighties and nineties, at its core, kaiju/monster movies often serve as a personification of society's boogeymen. In the 1950's, the Japanese used their own giant monster, Godzilla, to reflect their neuroses and trauma from the two nuclear blasts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the spectre of nuclear conflict that persisted all throughout the Cold War. Here, it's a very American take on the situation, baring the trauma to the American psyche through clever genre filmmaking.

Kong: Skull Island can be viewed as superficial B-movie-esque popcorn fun, relying on intertextual references ala Rogue One to keep viewers entertained. On the other hand, it can be viewed as a self examination of America's own deep scars.

Speaking of America's deep scars, Get Out, the directorial debut of comedian Jordan Peele, tackles that other giant elephant in the room: Racism. But Peele doesn't tackle the racism we overtly see. This isn't a movie about stereotypical, Trump supporting rednecks complaining that they "terk our jerbs". This is instead about a more insidious, normalized kind of racism. This is about a "benevolent" form of racism that is not really benevolent at all.

While the film sticks to the basics of the genre (jump scares and whatnot,) there's an atmosphere of awkwardness throughout the whole movie, making it extremely unsettling. Peele based the story of the film on his own anxieties when he would be the only black person in a social gathering, and you feel that anxiety when you know that something in this film is very, very wrong. The film wisely balances this dread with just the right amount of humor, thanks to a fantastic performance by Lil Rel Howery.

Peele (along with his comedy partner, Keegan-Michael Key) have always based their humor on observations on race and how it's still deeply rooted in society. Most of their skits in their comedy show Key and Peele tackle the same ideas as Get Out. See, just because America voted a black president into office (and would probably vote for him a third time if they could) doesn't mean racism is over. It just means that its roots will find less overt ways of manifesting in society.

I won't spoil the movie any more for you all, since I think watching this film blind is the best thing you can do. And do watch it, to gain a perspective on the nature of what racism is.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Sinag Maynila 2017 Festival Report


March marks the third edition of the Sinag Maynila film festival. We have five more full length feature films that are distinctly Filipino. This year, the results are mixed: one really good film, a couple decent films, and two films that I think will merit divided opinions.

I managed to see all five full length features, but I was unable to see the shorts and the documentaries, which seemed to be added to the festival as an afterthought (they were showing in only one cinema, for only a couple of days.) It's also weird in that one of the full length entries is itself a documentary. In any case, here are my thoughts on this year's Sinag Maynila 2017 films.

Let's start with the sole documentary in the full length feature category, Ricky Carranza's Beyond the Block. It serves as both historical chronicle and memoir, detailing the history of Pinoy streetdance and how it has evolved from a smattering of groups into a thriving culture of dance enthusiasts.

The film is divided into five chapters, each roughly covering a decade in the development of Pinoy Streetdance. The first two chapters, covering the seventies and eighties, are utterly fascinating, and the balance between memoir and history is kept. People who lived through these times might still remember shows like Dance 10 and the groups that participated in them, such as Carranza's own Funk System. For the nostalgia factor alone, this part of the film is worth the price of admission.

Once things get to the nineties, however, the historical material diminishes and the memoir aspect of the documentary takes over. This is where the documentary is at its weakest, and it's not helped by a tendency for the story to meander. For example, one sequence that involves a visit to Dubai (complete with epic intro) lasts only a minute at best, and is followed by a sequence that bears little to no relation to the topic at hand. It's kind of like listening to your Uncle tell you a story and he goes off on a tangent before returning to the story at hand.

While there are problems with how Beyond the Block is structured, it covers some really fascinating stuff, and is worth the watch if just for that.

Jason Orfalas' Ladyfish is not for everyone. Its brand of humor involves rather gross things that can offend a lot of people, including, but not limited to: goats, defiled vegetables and golden showers. I personally enjoyed the film, but felt a few things lacking from the final product.

Ladyfish takes the slice of life approach in depicting the everyday life of a gay man, Kaye (Martin Escudero) with a bunch of personal issues. He's visited by his transgender friend Bonn (Brenda Mage) who is in the middle of transitioning from male to female. Soon, the two of them, as well as Bonn's son, live together in a house.

That description is basically the whole movie, as Bonn and Kaye go about their daily lives with no real conflict between them. The movie does address a few issues regarding the discrimination of people from the LGBTQ community, but it doesn't materialize into anything that profoundly affects the story.

My main source of enjoyment from the film comes from the comedy, including a funny spoof of a scene from Lav Diaz's Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis. The ending of the film, which reveals something interesting about the film's characters, is interesting as well, although the beauty contest that precedes it feels a bit tacked on. Ladyfish may be entertaining, but at the end of the day, it simply goes nowhere.

I'm going to confess this to you guys right now: I have never seen a Joel Lamangan film that I've liked without reservations. This one comes pretty close, however.

Bhoy Intsik takes place in a typical Lamangan-esque world of social injustice and oppression, where savvy characters use their wits to survive. In this case it's petty thieves Marlon (Ronwaldo Martin) and the titular Bhoy Intsik (Raymond Francisco,) who strike up a strange friendship after fate intervenes in their lives.

There are some really good character moments between the two main characters of Bhoy Intsik, thanks to fantastic performances by Ronwaldo Martin (who basically does the thing he did in Pamilya Ordinaryo again) and Raymond Francisco, both of whom deserve awards for what they did in this film.

That said, the film is marred by a number of strange directorial and script decisions that suspend my disbelief and break my film viewing experience. First, living eye donations as depicted in the film don't really exist, unless there were some unethical black market shit going on. Second, one particular sequence in the film consists an absurd number of coincidences for the sake of plot development that just feels lazy. Third, some of the film's sequences are awkwardly edited, such as alternating shaky footage and static footage as reverse angles. The film lays on the EJK/Tokhang references really thick; the film is terribly unsubtle about it. Oh, and a suicide attempt is fixed in no time with no lasting emotional repercussions. O....kay.

Bhoy Intsik is watchable, if only for its two main characters. It's my least un-favorite Joel Lamangan film. If that makes sense.

Tu Pug Imatuy is, according to the poster, anyway, Manobo for "the right to kill." And when you give people the right to kill, that right tends to be abused.

The film tells the story of a Manobo family and their run-in with the military. To say anything more would spoil the experience, so I won't elaborate. Its mixed with some snippets of oral tradition, traditional folk music, and some really lush landscapes. It's no exaggeration to say the film is beautifully shot, probably one of this year's standouts in cinematography work.

The film's story is harrowing. It makes your blood boil in anger. But the most horrifying thing about it is that it's based on a true story, and that's scary as hell. The great cinematography works in the film's favor, as it provides a disturbing contrast to all the terrible things happening on screen.

The struggle of the Lumad has gotten increased attention in films these days with films like this and Chuck Gutierrez's Iisa, and I hope the trend continues. Tu Pug Imatuy is a story that chills your spine with the things it implies regarding our society. It's a story that needs to be heard.

Like Ladyfish, HF Yambao's Kristo also takes a slice of life approach, depicting a day in the life of a Kristo, or bet maker, in a local cockfighting arena. Unlike Ladyfish, however, Kristo is deadly serious.

Kristoffer King delivers yet another great performance as the titular Kristo. He's street smart and he knows the rules of the game. He's done these kinds of roles before, such as in last year's Purgatoryo and Dyamper, and as a whole, he's suited for the role.

Much like the cockfighting matches that happen in the film, the film's events depend largely on chance. Much of it is shot with an emphasis on realism, and makes no qualms showing these chickens fighting and killing each other.

My one real issue with the film is its ending; it seems really unnecessary and feels like an attempt to be edgy somehow. The story was otherwise compelling up to this point, but this just feels senseless. (The visual comparison was nice, though.)

In any case, the film is quite well made, and seeing the odds and ends of the cockfighting business is really interesting to watch. The film's characters and the capricious nature of fate only makes it look like the world's a giant cockfighting pit, and we're all gamecocks primed for a fatal game of chance.

***

That's it for Sinag Maynila, guys. I enjoyed this year's edition compared to 2016, to be honest, and I'm looking forward to future editions of the filmfest.

***

I'll be taking a short break from the blog to work on the anniversary special. I initially planned to not write anything in the interim, but I just realized there are a couple of really interesting films coming out in the next 2 weeks, and I might just be tempted to write sooner than expected. So thanks for reading, everyone, and see you all at the movies.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

March Reviews: Guardians and Pwera Usog

I'm just going to cut to the chase on this one: the Russian superhero film Guardians is terrible. Most of the film is incredibly boring and the action scenes are soporific. Most of the character development in this movie is established not through flashbacks or a cleverly structured plot, but by one on one conversations with the Guardians' perpetually smug commander.

The four Guardians have strange powers; one can use telekinesis but only on rocks, one can turn invisible, one has superspeed and one can turn into a bear. Oh, and together they can fire an energy ball for some reason. Go figure.

The local release of the film is dubbed, and it does not help the film one bit. The film employs a mix of practical effects and CGI. The CGI, especially for our bear friend, is particularly horrendous, while the practical effects and makeup, especially for the main villain, make him look like a bootlegged Michael Chiklis/Pillsbury Doughboy on steroids action figure.

This movie was definitely a disappointment. In the meantime, for some fun Russian action fantasy, try Nightwatch/Daywatch instead.

Pwera Usog is a fun horror comedy from Regal films. It begs comparisons to films like Evil Dead, Peter Jackson's Braindead, and the loopy local horror films of the eighties. It treats its material a bit tongue in cheek, and there's a distinct Filipino feel to the supernatural warfare being waged between a malevolent entity and a family of albularyos in the countryside.

The film makes the choice of having as its main protagonist one of the most unlikeable main characters of any film in recent memory. Jean (Sofia Andres) seems irredeemable based on her actions in the first half of the film. The script drops hints as to why she's acting this way, but it isn't really fleshed out. Once she has her redemptive moment by the latter half of the film, that moment feels unearned, because there isn't much of an established motivation for her to empathize and be altruistic towards the other main characters.

On the other hand, there's an interesting story that could have been told with the characters of Quintin (Kiko Estrada,) his adoptive mother (Aiko Melendez) and grandmother, and the identity of the mysterious entity causing the curse. It would have been interesting seeing the worldbuilding at play, establishing the rules of Usog and other faith healer things, like, say, how John Wick established its rules of killing in its world of assassins. The actions and backstories of Quintin and company are actually central to the film and its conclusion, but they're side characters for most of the film. Maybe for the sequel they can take a bigger role.

There are lots of surprises for casual horror fans, mostly jump scares and some creepy moments, but like I said, the movie adds a tinge of humor to the mix, so it's probably not horror like people are used to, which is a plus. I enjoyed Pwera Usog for what it's worth, and I'm curious how the world can be expanded further in possible future films.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Logan:: Weapon X's Kingdom Come

James Mangold's second and final entry to the Wolverine movie series, Logan, is for all intents and purposes, an X-Men/Wolverine story told with the themes and story conventions of a Western. And to be honest, for a swan song to the character, there's no genre more appropriate.

The X-Men Western

Aside from its primary comic book source material (the Old Man Logan storyline), Logan borrows heavily from many films of the Western genre, especially the 1953 movie Shane, directed by George Stevens. (It's the western that we see prominently during some of Logan's scenes.) In both films, a wandering man, accustomed to the ways of killing, is given a task to protect someone or something. In Logan's case, it's young Laura Kinney (Dafne Keen), a mysterious girl with ties to Logan. It's a story that has been told numerous times before, not only in westerns, but also in films from other genres such as Lone Wolf and Cub, The Professional, and others. 

And it's clear that the protagonists of Logan are no longer the heroes they once were. Logan himself, now decades old, struggles with a weakened healing factor. He takes care of an elderly, senile Professor Xavier and is basically waiting for his time to die. Our protagonist, like many a Western anti-hero, is a troubled individual with a checkered past, but with a solid code of honor that he applies to those he protects - and that plays into the story in a big way.

And here's where the Western influences help. Logan takes places in a post-post apocalyptic world where mutants are almost extinct; there hasn't been a new mutant born in 25 years. The film is bathed in near-apocalyptic music and imagery: the vehicles in the desert reminds one of the first Mad Max film, and the film ends appropriately with Johnny Cash's The Man Comes Around, which is chock full of references to the book of Revelations:**

And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts,
And I looked and behold: a pale horse.
And his name, that sat on him, was Death.
And Hell followed with him. 

In comparison, the Western itself has dealt with such imagery, to envision a decline of the old world, where the notion of Cowboys and the Wild West become obsolete. You see it not only in movies, but also in Western-themed video games like Red Dead Redemption. In the same way, Logan heralds of the end of mutant heroes like the X-Men, in a world where they are nothing more than legends in comic books.

A War for the Future

In his book Supergods, prolific comic book writer Grant Morrison once said that he thought of mutant culture "not (as) a single monolithic ideal, or the warring ideologies of "evil mutants" and "good mutants," but as a spectrum of conflicting viewpoints, self-images and ideas about the future," and Homo Superior's struggle against Homo Sapiens as, and I paraphrase, the tendency of the parents to fear being co-opted by their children, and thus try to kill them off. This undercurrent of fear undercuts the motivations of Logan's antagonists, because people fear less that which they control.

In the same way, this war for the future drives our protagonist forward, if only thanks to Logan's code of honor. That's a part of what made him a hero in the first place, and that's what Marvel did so well with their characters during the Silver Age of Comic Books, where superheroes were not perfect gods, but people like you and me with their own notions of doubt and weakness.

Hugh Jackman brings this sense of humanity out in spades, delivering his franchise best performance (and a pretty memorable performance overall.) Jackman and Dafne Keen make their scenes work, developing their characters in effective ways. Patrick Stewart's last turn as Charles Xavier is heartbreaking and masterful as well.

Breaking the Mold

Aside from the obvious Western influences, the film does a good job distancing itself from the action spectacle of other Superhero films. In fact, it's a Superhero film that doesn't feel like one. Instead of bloated, briskly edited, CGI heavy action sequences filled with dozens of characters, Logan gets its job done with simple, cleanly edited, brutal action choreography. The film earns its R rating with the number of decapitated limbs and heads flying around at any one time.

Logan delivers a level of tension that I haven't felt in a Superhero film in a long time. While it could be trimmed a bit for time, none of the scenes were boring or unnecessary. It's a bit sad that this will be the last outing of Wolverine in this particular cinematic universe, as well as Hugh Jackman's last turn as the beloved character. But its sheer quality and craft make me hopeful for future X-Movies in a franchise that has grown less relevant in the shadow of other comic book movie franchises.

**even more relevant considering Mangold directed the Cash biopic Walk the Line in 2005.

Hihintayin Kita sa Langit (Restored Version)

Carlos Siguion-Reyna's Hihintayin Kita sa Langit is a strange film in today's context. It features the Richard Gomez--Dawn Zulueta love team, but instead of formulaic or relatively lighthearted fare, the movie is surprisingly dark and full of dramatic moments.

The film itself is a loose adaptation of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, or at least the middle chunk of it. Richard Gomez takes on the Heathcliff role as Gabriel, a man driven by revenge against everyone who wronged him, while Dawn Zulueta takes on the role of Carmina, (patterned after the elder Catherine,) his childhood friend and eventual lover. As anyone who has read the book (or watched the numerous film adaptations) knows, the story is full of instances of physical, sexual and mental cruelty, where everyone seems to be manipulating everyone else.

The restored cut of the film is gorgeous. Romy Vitug's lensing of the North is made even more vivid with the restoration job, and unlike the restoration of Magic Temple, where darkened scenes lost a lot of clarity, the dimly lit scenes in this movie are crisp despite the low lighting. A lot of the scenes looked like they could have come from a movie released yesterday. In addition, this is a director's cut of the film, which leaves in several extended steamy love scenes involving Gomez and Zulueta, so fans of the original movie will find this a treat.

That said, the adaptation leaves holes in everyone's characterization, and it's most felt with Carmina. In the original book, Catherine may be flighty, but her decision is multifaceted; she is concerned about Heathcliff's social standing but nevertheless retains her love for him. Here, the script makes Carrmina out to be a bit erratic, leading to all sorts of bizarre, illogical, at times questionable character decisions. Sometimes the drama reaches soap opera levels; in particular, one scene set near crashing waves felt a bit too contrived for my taste.

But despite  these glaring character flaws, the movie is quite enjoyable to watch, if only for the cheese of it all. Hihintayin Kita sa Langit is a treat for fans of the Richard-Dawn love team and for dramas like this. Compared to recent fare, making a movie like Hihintayin Kita sa Langit, with a bankable screen couple and a dark story, is quite a ballsy move. They don't really make these kinds of dramas anymore.

ABS-CBN will be showing restored Cinema Classics, including Hihintayin Kita sa Langit, over at Glorietta and Trinoma Cinemas from March 1-7.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

My Ex and Whys

My Ex and Whys, Star Cinema's latest LizQuen vehicle, tells the story of Cali and Gio. Way back when, the two were a couple. But circumstances tore the two apart and they separated. This time, however, the two are paired up thanks to unlikely circumstances and Gio attempts to reconnect with Cali once more. Cali, however, isn't having any of it.

The film, as its central theme, tackles ideas of infidelity, trust and forgiveness. It posits the question, are men, by their very nature, incapable of a monogamous relationship? While it does play with the subject, the film's adherence to formula and generally poor writing negatively impact the final product, stripping it of any nuance.

Instead of making Gio a multifaceted character, whose remorse and actions are important to the story, the script blatantly declares that he should be forgiven, regardless of what Cali thinks about it. Enrique Gil is even backlit in many scenes, giving him an angelic, saintly look. He is surrounded by stereotypes of machismo that do nothing to help his situation. To be fair, I grew up in a similar household, where getting lots of girls was, if at least jokingly, a badge of honor.

While the film could have made Cali's eventual forgiveness of Gio nuanced, letting her naturally arrive at the decision whether to forgive Gio or not, the script removes her agency from the whole thing, loading the movie with tons of characters berating her repeatedly for not forgiving Gio already and being selfish and cold just because she doesn't want to. In more than one way it sounds sexist and insulting to Cali's character. And when Cali does reveal additional details behind her refusal to make up with Gio, which contextualizes her own situation, the film seems to sweep it all under the rug and forget about it. In addition, her childish insistence to prove Gio hasn't changed completely throws the story off kilter, nudging it into bad Wattpad adaptation territory. 

I think this unfortunate situation is because of the film's tendency to play it safe and underestimate its audience, preferring to sledgehammer in details rather than ease the audience into it. It prefers to limit itself within its formula, even ending with the most cliche of cliches, a desperate chase through traffic. It's not a particularly bad combination, and to be fair the film will still entertain even casual fans. But as a whole the film is generally unremarkable, and ultimately interchangeable with most of the other films in LizQuen's filmography.

And that's kind of a shame, since the film's other aspects have some really interesting ideas. Near the beginning we are treated to a couple of gorgeous shots; the scene inside the box is particularly inspired, and the film's use of split screens to reflect the characters' thoughts and internal conflict is ambitious. The film splices in and juxtaposes characters inside scenes and the editors make some creative, albeit at times weird scene transitions. Both Soberano and Gil are charming and capable in their roles.

But I've yet to see a film worthy of LizQuen's talents. What they need is something that exists outside formula, something that pushes their acting talents to the limit, while still emphasizing them as a couple. The search continues.